Taking advantage of some down time in the team’s clubhouse, Penn State pitching coach Jason Bell and a few players watched New York Yankees hurler Joba Chamberlain pitch in a spring training game.
Bell said the Yankees catcher set up for an outside fastball, but Chamberlain missed his spot over the middle of the plate and surrendered a hit.
Whether it’s during spring training in the MLB or the first few series in the college game, it’s rare that pitchers are in mid-season form that early.
The same issue of sharpness has plagued the Nittany Lions’ pitching staff six games into the season as it tries to find its form.
“They’re not as sharp as they will be in a month,” Bell said. “It’s just the amount of reps and in-game reps. You can do scrimmages. You can do intra-squads, but it’s pretty tough to simulate the competition… I think everybody is pressing and trying to do too much.”
For the Lions’ hurlers, trying to do too much has led to less-than-stellar numbers and poor results have followed.
With just one victory in the team’s first six games, the Lions’ staff has posted a 6.70 earned run average — a number assisted by two games in which the pitchers collectively surrendered eight or more earned runs.
While catcher Alex Farkes said the pitchers are hitting their spots for the most part, Bell said too many balls are being left up in the strike zone for hitters to pounce on.
“We’re leaving balls up and when you leave balls up they’re going to be hit. I tell the guys all the time, ‘You bounce the ball in the dirt, you get the ball back. You leave a pitch up and it’s a souvenir for somebody,’ ” Bell said.
Right-handed hurler Steven Hill agreed with his coach, noting a personal habit of walking too many hitters so far.
In two starts, Hill owns a 7.15 ERA and has succumbed to a “ball-four” six times in the early going.
“Some [improvements are] like getting the ball down, throwing quality pitches when it matters... And that’s not just me, that’s everyone. But it’s early, and we’re going to figure it out,” Hill said.
With that being said, the Lions aren’t foreign to slow starts to the season.
In Penn State’s first six games of the 2011-12 season, it also had just one win with a slightly better 4.94 ERA.
One of the longest tenured pitchers on the Lions’ staff, Hill has been through the trials and tribulations of early season baseball and said the key was to remain composed.
“As far as early season struggles, being here four years I’ve experienced that and I’ve experienced fast starts. You have to be levelheaded,” Hill said. “Losing is difficult, but you can’t take it so hard that it affects your future performances… We’ll turn it around.”